Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Pay the Two Dollars

Have you ever heard that expression?

The meaning is a little like "You can't fight city hall." Battles come to everyone, but the question is which ones do you fight and which ones do you leave alone, or just pay the two dollars.

It comes from an old comedy sketch from the days of Vaudeville, and I saw it on TV a few years ago. I've Googled, searched YouTube, browsed many websites of movies, video, and plays. It took several days and it finally turned up. I don't know why it's not available YouTube? It would teach in a few minutes an important concept of life.

Willie and Eugene Howard played the parts in the original version from George White's "Scandals of 1931." It appears that this particular Scandal just toured the stage, but never made it onto film. The sketch idea came from Finley Peter Dunne, Jr. and Willie Howard wrote the dialogue along with Billy K. Wells.

Here's how the sketch runs, as described in a Google book:

"The sketch commences on a New York subway. Willie plays the sad, inoffensive city toiler whose instincts tell him that the safe life consists of hard work coupled with the good luck not to become known by the authorities. He is with a friend who is a lawyer. This lawyer's personality demands that he challenge authority. He is intransigent and anarchistic. An argument arises between the two. Willie, in and excess of emotion, spits on the floor. The subway conductor directs Willies attention to the sign that declares that there is a two-dollar fine for spitting on the subway. Willie wishes to pay the two dollars and withdraw into anonymity. His lawyer friend sees this as an opportunity. He must not permit his client to submit to authority. It is a matter of principle. There follows and excalation of penalties as the lawyer explores each appellate level. At every step Willie Howard pleads, "Let's pay the two dollars." He knows, with the peasant's perception, that the enforcement of the law is always in the right hands. But the lawyer is obsesses with vindication.
When Willie is sentenced finally to death, the lawyer directs his unabated energies toward obtaining a governor's pardon. Here he is successful. As they return home on the subway, Willie denounces the lawyer for destroying his life. He becomes worked up again and inadvertently spits on the subway. Blackout and curtain."

The description doesn't do justice to the actual sketch. Until there is a downloadable version, you can find it as a part of "Ziegfeld Follies of 1946." Sometimes labelled as 1945. The production started in 1944, most of the work was done in 1945, and the film was released in 1946. Not all that long, considering there was a war going on.

It can be purchased through Turner (TCM) for about 20 bucks, but I got mine from Amazon for half that, including shipping. The Technicolor film was proclaimed the "greatest production since the birth of motion pictures," quite a stretch since "Gone with the Wind" and "Wizard of Oz" had been done over 5 years earlier. But it does have some of the greatest entertainers of the time. Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly together on film the first time, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Judy Garland, Lena Horne, Esther Williams and more.

William A. Ricks

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this story! I've been trying to track it down all morning. My dad - who probably knew the story from Jewish vaudeville - used the line "Pay them the two dollars, Pincus" all the time and when I used it recently, a friend asked where it came from. I could find the "Follies" citation - but no details.